A thought-provoking and fascinating non-fiction book that’s quite possibly my favourite read of 2021 (and this is really saying something, as I’ve read a sizeable number of truly excellent books to get me through an epically challenging time).
Neil Ansell catalogues his visits throughout the year to the New Forest, with its flourishing plant and birdlife; a forest that’s almost unchanged from its original, planted at the time of William the Conqueror who particularly liked to hunt game.
There are hints of sadness to the book as the author reflects upon the drastic diminishment of birdlife in England during the last few decades, plus the loss of habitat in general for wildlife. He also talks of how the Gypsies dwelt in the New Forest for centuries, living in harmony with the environment, but were then expelled to cities by those who thought they knew better.
Ansell manages to travel quite seamlessly backwards and forwards in time, weaving history, childhood memoir, the present, and the long-term ecological impact of failing to care for the environment.
About the author: Neil Ansell has been an award-winning television journalist with the BBC and a long-standing writer in newpaper journalism.
Geoffrey Gudgion’s second novel Draca is as excellent as his first novel Saxon’s Bane, which reached No. 1 in Kindle’s ‘Ghost’ category. To quote General Sir Peter Wall, President of Combat Stress, Draca is ‘A really cracking read about a soldier who attacks his battlefield demons through his passion for sailing – and sadly still needs help’.
I love the way the author manages to weave Viking mythology, history, and the paranormal into a thoroughly contemporary story. He’s so good at in-depth characterisation, without ever slowing down the pace and forward momentum of his writing.
The story is told from three viewpoints: the main protagonist PTSD-sufferer Jack, his father Harry with whom Jack has a fractured relationship, and love-interest Georgia (George) Fenton who works at the boatyard and is psychic. Interspersed between these chapters are excerpts from the diary of Jack’s deceased grandfather Edvard Ahlquist (Old Eddie), who has bequeathed his entire estate to his grandson, and excerpts from the 9th Century Viking Saga of King Guthrum. The estate includes Draca, a cutter (circa 1905), whose figurehead is a Viking dragon which George believes is possessed by an evil entity that latterly drove Old Eddie mad, and now means to drive Jack mad.
In places, this story really made my spine tingle, and I was right behind George in wanting to knock sense into Jack before it was too late.
This novel is a highly recommended read that will have you sitting at the edge of your seat. Even if you don’t know much about boats and sailing at the beginning of this novel, you’ll end up learning a great deal about the subject. But one word of advice – if you decide to take it up as a sport, don’t ever be tempted to adorn it with a Viking figurehead!
Please note that all author royalties earned through sales of Draca will be shared equally with the veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress.
About the author: Geoffrey Gudgion served for over 10 years in the armed forces, and made his first attempts at writing fiction during quiet moments on deployment. He later stepped off the corporate ladder, in the midst of a career in marketing and general management, specifically to release time to write.
Draca is available to buy via the following links:
William D. Holland’s memoir And the Blind Shall See is a story that scans six decades. Throughout his first nine months, William was blind. He had passed through nine different foster homes, during which time he had experienced little by way of stimulation or love, causing him to suffer Failure to Thrive Syndrome. Finally, a couple adopted him and offered him all the love, security, and stimulation he needed, which resulted in him gaining his sight.
As can be the case with adopted children, there is often an underlying insecurity and propensity towards self-destructive behaviour, even when they are in receipt of much love and reassurance. William’s adoptive parents raised him to know right from wrong, have good manners, to care for his neighbour, help the underdog etc. Consequently, he grew up wanting to help other people, whether in his work or in a voluntary basis out in the community. But he was never able to shake off an underlying melancholy, which erupted into uncontrollable grief over the sudden death of his father. It was then that he turned to the bottle and started his courtship with that self-destructive demon, alcohol. What followed, was a battle that lasted several decades, destroying relationships, losing him jobs, until finally he managed to swear off drink permanently, with the support of his wonderful current wife.
What I loved the most about this book is that the author has made no attempt to paper over the cracks as he lays bare the devastation his addiction to the bottle reaped upon himself and those who cared about him. We read of a man who had regained his physical sight but was still in effect blind. He had been rejected at birth, which meant he could be rejected again, and again, and again. This fear drove him to the bottle. The bottle gave him false confidence and hoodwinked him into believing himself clever, witty, popular, desirable, when in fact it was having the reverse effect and destroying his relationships, his career as a teacher, and his mental health.
On a personal level, this book gave me an insight into something that had puzzled me for many years and enabled me to lay to rest one almighty ghost in my own life, which in turn has led to forgiveness. Although I understood why people might hit the bottle when they had nothing to live for, I could not understand why they would do so when they had everything to live for. Furthermore, the whole notion of high-functioning alcoholics baffled me further. Thanks to William’s testimony, I now know the answer to these questions. Alcoholism is an illness and needs treating as such, just as heart disease, or cancer are illnesses. Alcoholism reaps havoc not only on the sufferer but upon their families and loved ones.
If you want to get a real good look inside the head of an alcoholic, whether you are an alcoholic in denial or a victim of that alcoholic, or a therapist working with alcoholics, this is the book for you. Even if you are none of these things, this is a mightily moving and inspirational memoir, written by a wonderful human being. William D. Holland, you are officially a hero.
A former teacher, former business owner, former fill-in-the-blanks with dozens of other jobs, William D Holland (Bill) can now be found in Olympia, Washington, writing, gardening, walking his dogs, and living a very simple life with his wife, Bev.
And the Blind Shall See (amazon.com & amazon.co.uk) is a radical departure from his normal fiction, which includes eight novels, mostly dealing with the eternal struggle of good vs evil.
I’m so excited to share my review of this fabulous non-fiction book by debut author, Michael J. Dibden, especially after my involvement as a beta-reader during its pre-publication stage. Below is what I had to say on Amazon and on Goodreads, where I awarded it five stars.
Taz – Tales of a Rascal Pooch is a humorous biography, told from the alternating viewpoints of the rascal pooch and his owners who he refers to individually as “The Suit” and “Ms Noodle”, or both together as “the hoomans”.
The story has its sad moments where I fought back a tear or two (no spoilers here), but mostly it had me laughing out loud. Taz does his utmost to play his new hoomans, who, although experienced dog owners in the past, have never had to handle an uncouth Staffordshire Bull Terrier who makes it his mission to train them, rather than the other way around. As an ex-stud dog, he has sex on his mind and a habit of humping the air at the most inopportune moments. The same goes for his dispensing of foul odours. He swears a lot, too, so please don’t buy this book and then complain afterwards, when you’ve been warned. If Taz could talk, this is how he’d sound – in other words, it’s authentic characterisation.
It is a well-written book, which, although memoir, has the pacing, spot-on characterisation, sense of setting, and realistic dialogue to be found in some of the best humorous novels. I think the story would appeal best to dog-owners, although it is also possibly a story for those who enjoy true stories that demonstrate canine loyalty towards their owners — a dog’s ability to know when its owners need it to temper its excesses and transform itself into a caring and tender creature of vast understanding.
A highly recommended read.
Taz — Tales of a Rascal Pooch is available both in paperback and kindle versions at Amazon (UK) & Amazon (US), and other Amazon sites worldwide.
Sam Jordison has packed his non-fiction book The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Badwith mindboggling facts related to our past and present, which he displays in countdown lists from ten to one, with the worst offenders left to last. The author must have carried out a tremendous amount of research both in compiling lists from scratch and in sourcing existing ones.
I love it when a book teaches me loads of new stuff in an
entertaining way. The author’s subjective comments are often hilarious, maybe
some of them tongue-in-cheek, but who knows? He enjoys making passing jibes
about Brexit and Trump, although for him he’s showing amazing restraint on the
political front! I didn’t always agree with his choice of worst things. For
instance, I happen to be a great fan of Game
of Thrones (no. 9 in his list of worst TV programmes of all times) and adored
the movie Dances with Wolves (no. 5
in the list of worst winners of the best picture Oscar).
He has divided the book into ten main sections that, in turn,
he divides into sub-sections. You may not find each one of equal interest but
there’s something for everybody. I read the whole book from cover to cover, but
struggled a bit with lists appertaining to sport. Also, I think there’s one too
many lists dedicated to The Beatles, where just one would suffice. On the other
hand, I’m quite tempted to check out “The Worst Duets in Pop History” on
YouTube, especially as his footnote warns you against doing so. His list “The
Ten Most Brutal Shakespearean Insults” has filled me with the desire to
re-visit the bard’s works, following their past slaying by the school
For me, the two most fascinating main sections of the book
were “Bad Nature”, which includes the deadliest insects and plants, scariest
human parasites, and most venomous snakes; and “The Olden Days”, which includes
punishments in ancient mythology, the craziest Roman Emperors, worst Popes,
absurd popular scientific theories, and worst medical procedures.
Ultimately, this book demonstrated what a miracle it is that
the human race has survived for so long, despite… well, I’ll leave you to fill
in the ellipsis by reading the book in its entirety. And when you reach the
final sub-section “The Ten Most Likely Ways the Earth is Going to End”, you’ll
be delighted to discover that humans could prevent five out of ten of them.
A highly recommended read.
Sam Jordison is a journalist for The Guardian and writes regular articles about books and publishing on their website . He’s the author of several bestselling books, including the Crap Towns series, Literary London (co-written by Eloise Millar) and Enemies of the People. He’s also the co-director of the award-winning publisher Galley Beggar Press.